The controversial role of Rafael Bielsa amid escalating violence in trans-Andean Patagonia

The Argentine ambassador to Chile, Rafael Bielsa participated in the hearing of the RAM leader, Facundo Jones Huala.

© Provided by La Tercera
The Argentine ambassador to Chile, Rafael Bielsa participated in the hearing of the RAM leader, Facundo Jones Huala.

After at least three arson attacks this month claimed by Mapuche communities in Río Negro, the polarized political scene in Argentina due to the conflict in the south was added a series of questions to the trans-Andean ambassador in Chile, Rafael Bielsa, for his participation in a hearing in the case of the Mapuche leader Facundo Jones Huala, who is serving a sentence in Temuco for simple homicide and carrying a homemade weapon. The Argentine diplomat assured that based on the regulations of the Vienna Convention, his obligation is to attend if a compatriot “requests consular assistance”, but that “I did not ask for anything, neither that he be denied or that he be released from prison.”

Nevertheless, Bielsa’s controversial role resulted in the Chancellor Andrés Allamand -as confirmed sources of RR.EE. to La Tercera- send a letter to the Argentine embassy in Santiago after the situation that arose in the past October 5, the date on which Bielsa appeared remotely at the hearing via Zoom in which the Chilean courts would decide the request for conditional release of the leader of the Mapuche Ancestral Resistance (RAM). At the meeting, the ambassador assured that he “limited himself to refuting the arguments of the envoy of the Ministry of the Interior and responded to five unacceptable statements.” As confirmed by La Tercera, a few days after the process that ruled against Jones Huala, who must serve the nine-year sentence behind bars, La Moneda sent a formal letter that was endorsed by official senators from Vamos por Chile.

The President of Argentina, Alberto Fernández, speaks at the Casa Rosada.

The President of Argentina, Alberto Fernández, speaks at the Casa Rosada.

Last Friday, the Argentine ambassador to Chile again justified his appearance in court by defending that Jones Huala “is not convicted of terrorism, if he had been so I would not have had any hearing to go to because the rules of parole apply to everyone, except those who have committed crimes against humanity or terrorism”. According to the Argentine newspaper La Nación, Bielsa explained that it was himself and did not send the consul because “this is not an order, nor is Alberto Fernández or Minister Santiago Cafiero hidden behind me. I take responsibility for everything, for what I did and what I stopped doing, but I cannot take responsibility for what people invent ”.

The defense of a criminal figure who, furthermore, ignores the National State and even the figure of the ambassador. The representation of the National State in that sense has not been successful“, The governor of Río Negro, Arabela Carreras, questioned the role played by Rafael Bielsa, and in the last hours denounced that there is a complicity of” actors “of the national government with the violence in the south.

According to the Argentine portal Infobae, no official of the Argentine government, starting with Bielsa, could ignore the political meaning of the intervention in the hearing on the Jones Huala case -which sent a statement in which he accused the Casa Rosada of intervening in the Chilean judiciary-, and which generated discomfort in the Chilean government, an addition to the exhausting regional policy of the Fernández government.

Criticisms of the Casa Rosada

The diplomatic clash between Chile and Argentina, which has not yet received an answer from Rafael Bielsa, raises the tension in the Casa Rosada, which would not have welcomed the presence of its ambassador in a highly relevant case, especially given the recent episodes in Bariloche. The Rio Negro governor, Carreras, faced the President Fernández, by demanding the dispatch of federal forces and the issuance of a total sentence, after the fire of the Club Andino Piltriquitrón, in El Bolsón, unleashed last Friday, which he described as “terrorist attacks”, as fuel drums and posters were found against the official, Mayor Bruno Pogliano, as well as in rejection of the business owners of land in Patagonia, Joe Lewis and Luciano Benetton.

Before the incident, the RAM, the Puel Mapu Autonomous Mapuche Movement (MAP) and the Territorial Liberation Ancestral Unit (UAL), had been awarded a fire in a tourist information center in Río Negro, on October 3, and a local deposit, the next day.

The Argentine president came out of the questioning with a letter sent to Carreras last week, in which he recalled that “It is not the function of the national government to reinforce the control of national routes or to provide security in the region”Therefore, based on the “use of the police power granted by the Constitution of Río Negro, a specific body can be formed to deal with the reinforcement of control and greater security in the future.”

However, in the face of the rain of criticism that the head of state received in his refusal to send reinforcements, such as the Minister of Security of the province of Buenos Aires, Sergio Berni, who accused that in Argentine Patagonia there is “terrorism” and that “it is the obligation of the State to send troops”, the Casa Rosada two weeks later backtracked and in addition to a trip by Fernández to Chubut, they gave the order to send troops without informing the number of agents from the National Gendamerie, the Prefecture and the airport police in Río Negro, Chubut and Neuquén.

In the midst of the Mapuche conflict, the Association of Prosecutors and Officials of the Public Ministry of Argentina published a statement in which it urged “The powers of the State to support and expand collaboration with the federal prosecutor of Bariloche Sylvia Little”, that investigates the Lof Lafken Winkul Map, the murder of Rafael Nahuel in 2017 and the extradition to Chile of Facundo Jones Huala, who resigned last week after a Mapuche leader who attacked her was acquitted.

A few weeks ago, the Peronist government withdrew a complaint against the National Administration of National Parks in the investigation for land usurpation, which was not seen with good eyes by the local authorities. The task of the Argentine ruling party is now installed to control the attacks in the south, a sector that will be key for the legislative elections. The five provinces of Patagonia will define 12 seats in the Chamber of Deputies and three of senators, so Chubut will be a key territory and classified as “war spoils” because an opposition victory could end with the Kirchner majority in the Senate and put the Chamber of Deputies in check.

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